The blockchain is hot. On Tuesday, I will moderate a session on it at ILTCon – more below. This morning, I flipped through Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. I was excited to see the Opening Remarks section, a commentary and op-ed style weekly piece. This Is Your Company on Blockchain is a medium-length discussion of the potential disruptive effect of blockchain technology.

Though many mainstream media articles on blockchain have appeared, most articles still lead with a  blockchain definition:

It mashes up cryptography and peer-to-peer networking to create what amounts to a shared database of transactions and other information—which can be open to all, controlled by no one. It’s not just for securely recording payments in crypto-coinage; a blockchain can handle complex transactions, even entire contracts.

It notes that that “believers say blockchain could reduce the need for businesses to organize as companies”. Wow. That’s the first time I hear that argument and it sounds more dystopian than utopian to me. Yet it builds from the value of blockchain and why so many financial institutions and other organizations are piloting it today. The “blockchain is far less cumbersome than the trust-creating infrastructure that it partially replaces.”

The technology is pretty hard to understand. The implications are potentially profound. That’s why I’m excited to moderate a session on the blockchain on Tuesday, 30 August 2016 at 11am, at ILTACon, the 2016 conference of the International Legal Technology Association.

The session, When Will Blockchains and Smart Contracts Be Important in Legal (#061), has three panelists: Rohit Talwar (CEO Fast Future), Joe Dewey (partner Holland & Knight), and Tori Adams (Data Scientist, Booz Allen Hamilton). I’ve appended the session description below.

I’ve asked the panelists to cover a range of issues. Each will speak for about 15 minutes, which leaves 45 minutes for audience participation and panelist discussion. Some of my questions are below. Given the complexity of the topic and the many issues, we may not get to them all.

I welcome suggestions for additional questions, either here or at the session.

Questions about the Blockchain

  1. ILTA this year hosts several sessions about AI. It’s true that AI has had a huge amount of press coverage. And many articles say AI will be very disruptive. Blockchain too has its share of press.  Any views on which will have more impact – AI or blockchain – and why?
  2. Thinking about the web – early days and now – and comparing it to blockchain… is it helpful to think about what may be a key commonality: disintermediation, transparency, and access?  The web allowed everyone to publish and therefore everyone to consume content in new ways.  Blockchain creates more transparency and more access.  Is this a helpful way of thinking about blockchain? If it’s right, can we draw implications? If not, is there a better mental model?
  3. If the blockchain really is as revolutionary as the web, what will it mean for everyday consumers in a decade or two out? The web, aided by smartphones, has really changed how we spend our time, engage in transactions, and consume information. Social media, e-commerce, news feeds, video streaming… it’s a new world. If blockchain becomes pervasive, will the differences in how the world works be as obvious to typical consumers? Or will it be more behind the scenes?
  4. What is the low hanging fruit? That is, what area(s) of law do you think will be the first to be impacted by blockchain technology and how?
  5. We’re approaching or past the one year anniversary of pervasive blockchain hype. Does any major company you know of have a blockchain-based application being used in the wild yet?
  6. Does secure digital identity matter to blockchain? That is, does it depend on being able reliably to identify individuals.  
  7. What is the single biggest hurdle/hinderance to the adoption of blockchain technology in the legal industry?
  8. If someone wants to keep up on major developments – say every couple of months – what are good sources to consult?
  9. So, if we’re talking disruption, can we see far enough into the future to guess at a disruption to the blockchain? By way of example, some argue that mobile apps are disrupting the World Wide Web. Or that dark content disrupts the web. What about quantum computing? Either as a way to decrypt or as an alternative means of securing transactions. (On quantum computing, see Aug 16 NYT article on launch of Chinese quantum satellite.)


Session Description

If you knew in the early 1990s that the web and hypertext would explode on the scene in 1995, would you have done anything differently? Will we ever have a chance to relive that moment? Maybe. If you believe some pundits, we are at a similar moment for blockchain technology. Numerous mainstream media articles have covered it and associated smart contracts and cryptocurrencies, but what is blockchain technology exactly? Learn what the technology is, how smart contracts could change business and law, and how big companies in many industries are testing or using the blockchain and smart contracts.